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OS X Software Update Gives You Only Inconvenient Choices

Pure Visibility is an Apple shop. When I came to Pure Visibility and got my MacBook, it was the first time that I had worked with a Mac all day long, every day. It took a while to get used to this new environment and separate the aspects of OS X that I didn’t like from the aspects that were simply different than what I was used to.

I’ve now been here for a while. There seem to be some great things about OS X, some things that are arbitrarily different, and there are some areas where there is room for improvements in usability. In writing about them, I’m not trying to assert the superiority of one operating system over another. Rather, I take the position that there’s always room for improvement.

My newly installed OS X came configured to look for software updates on a weekly basis. That’s no problem. The problem is in the Software Update application’s main screen.

Software Update for OS XEvery Thursday morning, I get into the office and start up my computer. Not too long after I’ve started checking email and looking through my calendar and getting started on the day’s work, this window pops open telling me what software updates are available. Fair enough. However, the only option it gives me is to install the update right there on the spot. That would be fine, except that just about every week, there is a software update that requires restarting the computer.

So, every Thursday, not too long after I’ve started working, Software Update asks me if I’d like to drop everything I’m doing and restart the computer.

Of course, I can just ignore Software Update until it is convenient for me to restart. It could happen, but pretty often, I spend my day at work actually working. Or I’ll have something that I’m working on that I want to leave open if I take a break.

Instead, I can wait until the end of the day and install the software updates. Assuming I remember to do it – it is apparently possible to shut off the computer without installing those updates or Software Update asking you if you’d still like to install the updates. If I do remember to install them, then I’m stuck waiting for the computer to finish restarting before I can shut it down and leave. There doesn’t seem to be any way to just have the computer install the updates and shut down rather than restart.

Alternatively, I can close the window or quit Software Update, and then run it again later or wait until next week. The problem there is that I have to either run it again later or wait until next week. Updating software doesn’t correspond to any of my goals. Why should I have to remember to run Software Update again later when it is solely for the benefit of the computer? If I leave it until the following week, then I’m just back in the same situation again on Thursday morning.

So what would I do to improve this? How about one more button: “Install these updates when I shut down the computer.” Software Update then goes away, and then next time you shut down the computer, it takes that little bit of extra time to install the updates. It could even do it the next time you restart, too, in case you happen to do that first.

That way, you can have it whichever way you like it: If you enjoy dropping whatever you’re doing and rebooting, you can install the updates immediately. If you enjoy working for the computer rather than having the computer work for you, you can just close Software Update and manually start it whenever you choose. If you want to get the software updates but want to keep working, then you have the option to unobtrusively slip them in when in works for you.

Naturally, after writing this post, the next time I shut down my computer, OS X flashed a dialog informing me that it was installing some updates just before the computer finished shutting off. I have no idea how I got that to happen, and my search for information online has turned up nothing. Given that I can’t figure out how to get it to happen again, I think this post still stands.

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2 Responses to "OS X Software Update Gives You Only Inconvenient Choices"

  • Trek Glowacki
    July 21, 2008 - 11:54 am Reply

    Under Leopard “important” updates can be set to download and install automatically (http://www.flickr.com/photos/thetrek/2688807339/). That’s probably what caused the message that some updates had been installed magically.

    Other updates that require a restart that apple doesn’t consider “important” can be installed using software update and when it asks you to restart, just quit software update. They’ll take effect whenever you next restart your mac (which can lead to some humorous confusion if, like me, you only restart once in a great while).

    The larger problem here is that Apple has yet to open up software update to third party developers. Most are using the sparkle framework these days (http://sparkle.andymatuschak.org/) but it works on a per-app basis. Couple this with Firefox and other mozilla apps (which uses their own updater and a separate updater for addons) and it’s really easy to end up in multiupdate hell: launching and relaunching apps and systems.

  • Mike Beasley
    Mike Beasley
    July 21, 2008 - 1:49 pm Reply

    Regarding your second paragraph: Thank you – that’s really helpful. If they made this functionality a bit more explicit, then the problem I write about is solved.

    Long-term, it would be great if Software Update could handle more responsibilities.

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